As we all know, life gets busy.

I had tried all September and October to plan a time to head to New York City to enjoy its full-blown autumn splendor, but work and everything else zapped up the time.  So, I had pretty much resigned myself to the thought that I would have to try again next year.

Then my very considerate fiancé stepped in and surprised me with a trip to NYC for my 29th birthday on November 12.  It worked out perfectly–my birthday fell on a Saturday, and Leon worked quietly behind the scenes to plan a great present.  When he told me the surprise plan, I squealed and could hardly contain my excitement.  After all, by that point I was fine with the idea of spending the beginning of my last year in my 20’s in front of the TV.

It turned out to be an incredible birthday, and also an incredible culinary tour of NYC.  I realized after we returned to D.C. that, in every single picture I took in New York, we had a plate of food in front of us.  (Good thing that calories don’t count on your birthday).

Leon and I hit the road early and made it to New York with plenty of daylight left to spare.  The weather could not have been more perfect–cool but not cold, crisp but not too chilly.  The leaves were all vibrant shades of red and orange, and the entire city looked  like it was dressed up for the season.  It was a fantastic sight to see.

We certainly managed to cram plenty of sightseeing and eating into our trip.  To start, we took a walk around Midtown to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree being set up, strolled through Times Square, and visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  I also had the chance to fulfill my autumn fantasy of getting a pumpkin spice latte at Trump Tower on 5th Avenue and strolling down the street admiring the window displays.

And of course, we ate.  I read somewhere that, even if you ate at a different place in New York City for every meal, it would take years to try every single place.  Leon and I certainly did our best to put a dent into that number–we packed our Tums and hit the town, hungry for gastronomic adventure.

To start, we grabbed steak at Gallegher’s Steakhouse for my birthday dinner.  Gallegher’s is a favorite haunt of celebrities, apparently, and is in a great location.  Madonna was playing a concert across the street, and the coat check lady (who looked like she was about 80 years old and, according to her, had been around New York forever) informed us matter-of-factly that she had met Madonna years ago, and, “you wouldn’t look at her twice if you saw her on the street!”  We laughed and proceeded to dig into our steaks with gusto.

Being in New York, we also had to grab some real NY style pizza while we were there.  Leon and I tried to do a proper pizza crawl, but after enjoying pizza from Angelo’s and Ray’s, we both had to take a break.  The pizza was delicious, but we had to save room for dessert.

And boy, did we save room for dessert.  I took Leon to two of my favorite dessert spots in the Big Apple, Lindy’s Cheesecake and Serendipity 3.  I don’t know how, but our stomachs were able to handle slices of creamy NY cheesecake and decadent frozen hot chocolate alongside the copious amounts of steak and pizza.

In between eating, we also strolled around the city and made our way down to see Ground Zero.  The last time I had been down to the site, about a year ago, there was not much construction going on, and the giant craters were still present to bystanders.  This time, however, the initial work on the new 9/11 Memorial and the new structures (fountains where the original buildings stood, a new World Trade Center building, and a transportation hub for new subway trains and ferries) looked like they were coming along nicely.  It always makes me emotional when I go down to Ground Zero, and Leon and I both stood there quietly for a moment reflecting on that sad day in our nation’s history.  We agreed that it will be interesting to see what it looks like upon completion.

Then, in a New York minute, it was time to head back to D.C., and back to reality.  We both laughed on the way home that we had managed to squeeze about 10 meals into our trip, and we talked about how good it was to get away and explore such an exciting city.

It was a wonderful way to celebrate my 29th birthday, and I’m so thankful to have a thoughtful fiancé who made my dream of returning to New York in the fall a reality.

I also figure that, by the time we digest everything we ate, it will be time to return for more!

                                     Ain’t no party like a [New York] cheesecake party…